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Lough all around you on every step of canal walk

By Linda McKee

Six rivers pour into the largest freshwater lake in Britain and Ireland but only one spills out — the Lower Bann. The river makes its exit from Lough Neagh at Toome, where it starts its journey north to meet the Atlantic near Castlerock.

Excavation work on Toome Canal has unearthed the remains of the late 17th century Toome Castle, one of several defensive castles constructed around the Lough shore during the 1600s. During this excavation, evidence of earlier medieval occupation of this area was also recorded.

This 2km off-road walk follows a paved pathway along the banks of Toome Canal to reach the shores of Lough Neagh. Once there, walkers can enjoy wide panoramic views over the Lough from the viewpoint.


From Belfast (estimated 30 mins), follow M2 north onto the M22. At the end of the M22 continue along the A6. At the signpost for Toome take a right at the Brecart Roundabout onto the Moneynick Road. Follow this road and it will lead onto Toome Main Street.

The road then veers left just past the bus stop. Turn left immediately as this road swings right and park in the small area opposite the lock-keeper’s cottage. The walk begins as you go along the canal bank towards to the park gates. Walk south towards the Lough shore along the banks of Toome Canal. To your right are the remains of the old railway bridge over the River Bann.

A rail line from Randalstown to Cookstown was opened in 1856 and included the construction of the Carlisle Bridge. The railway was closed in the late 1950s following increased competition from road traffic. The Carlisle Bridge soon fell into a state of disrepair and has been largely dismantled following the opening in 2004 of the new Toome bypass a short distance to the north.

On your right you will notice some of the Lower Bann sluice gates. For many generations, high winter rainfall draining into the Lough raised water levels, flooding surrounding farmland and meadows regularly.

Today, three sets of flood gates and five sets of locks on the Lower Bann allow the water level of Lough Neagh to be controlled by draining excess water during periods of high rainfall and also to maintain navigable flows during periods of lower rainfall. Today, Lough Neagh is 3.6 metres lower than it was in 1847 and the former, higher lake shores can still be seen at several places around the Lough.

The path soon reaches the shores of Lough Neagh and a viewpoint provides wide panoramas over the Lough, which takes its name from ‘Loch nEathach’ meaning ‘Eochu's Lake’. According to one legend, Eochu was the son of Mairidh who drowned when a mystical well overflowed to create the present day Lough.

The Backdrop

Toome derives its name from the Irish ‘Tuaim’ meaning ‘pagan burial place’, although the site of that burial place has not been identified. An earlier name was ‘Fearsaid Thuama’, meaning ‘sand-bank ford of Toome’, referring to a former ford crossing of the Bann here.

Toome is famous for its eel fishery. The Lough Neagh Eel Fishermen's Co-operative Society Limited controls the catching and marketing of eel and other scale fish from Lough Neagh and provides licences for around 100 commercial fishing boats on the Lough.

If you wish to take part in any further outdoor pursuits, both the Lower Bann Canoe Trail and Lower Bann Cycle Trail begin at Toome Linear Park.

At Churchtown Point on the shores of Lough Neagh lie the ruins of an ancient Irish Church and St Olcan’s Holy Well. There is a tradition that states that the well was blessed with healing properties by St Olcan, who reputedly lies buried at Cranfield's 13th century church in earth brought from Rome.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930 or Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: Toome Canal.

Area: Lough Neagh.

Nearest big town to start point: Toomebridge, Co Antrim

Distance: 2 kilometres

Terrain: Flat gradient along paths to the shores of Lough Neagh.

Refreshments: The village of Toome is full of places to eat and drink, including O’Neill’s Hotel, 2 minutes’ walk away from the car park.

Publications: Antrim Borough: A Walking Guide. This leaflet is available to download for free on Antrim Borough Council’s website;

Walk Developed By: Toome Linear Park is a community development project implemented by local group TIDAL in 2001. The site is maintained by Antrim Borough Council.

Map: Sheet 14 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ

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